Hockey fans love many different types of players. Some love fancy scorers, the danglers, the dancers. Some like the pugilists, the scrappers, the agitators. And some, for some unknown reason that most of us can’t really fathom, like goalies.
But around the EIHL, there’s usually a lot of love for the kind of blue-collar players who make teams tick-the kind of players whose contribution shows on more than just the stat sheets in terms of goals and assists. The kind of players who are often the ones you need to win.
In the EIHL, there’s a player who is one of those par excellence. A player who is arguably the most important player in the EIHL, bar none.
Belfast Giants captain Adam Keefe is the very definition of a franchise player. The 30-year-old from Brampton, Ontario has had more of an impact then probably even he thought possible on both the EIHL and the city of Belfast. Now in his fourth season in the Northern Irish capital and proudly wearing the captain’s “C” on his chest for the third season in a row, the 5’11, 200lb forward has already cemented his place among the all-time legends of his team-and arguably as one of the most significant and respected players of the EIHL era.
In a league where gaudy numbers are often the quickest way to fans’ hearts (look at the way Ryan Ginand instantly became a star in Coventry, for example) Keefe’s way to the Pantheon has been paved with bruised knuckles and bruised bodies as well as goals…playing on the Giants’ third line, he’s formed a partnership with his great friend and partner-in-crime Daryl Lloyd which has been a huge part of the Giants’ success-the pair of them are the closest the EIHL will ever get to the famous “Bash Brothers” familiar to anyone who’s ever seen the Mighty Ducks films.
Keefe has never apologised for his style of play-a style that more than once has brought him into conflict with the disciplinarians of the league as his hitting has crossed a league-sanctioned line. It’s a style of play that emphasises the team above all else-if there’s a shot to be blocked, a punch to be taken or a check to be landed, Keefe will be first in line-and his team-mates know it very well indeed.
fasIn a league with a high turnover of players from season to season, particularly amongst non-British players, it’s rare for imports in the EIHL era to hang around in the league for a long time, never mind at one club. It’s even rarer for imports to integrate themselves into the local community and identify themselves with a franchise quite in the way Keefe has managed to do-it’s fair to argue that he holds the same place in Belfast fans’ hearts as former GM and Giants legend Todd Kelman. To fans not just in Belfast but across the EIHL, “Keefer” IS the face of the Belfast Giants, appearing in promotional material regularly, mixing with local media and making himself a big part of local and Northern-Ireland-wide charity appeals during his time in the city, such as the “Wee Oscar” appeal for young cancer sufferer Oscar Knox…Keefe was incredibly active on Twitter both in publicising the campaign and finding ways for the Giants and their fans to help. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, far from “just” being the most recognisable player in Belfast, he’s one of the faces of the EIHL itself.
Ask any EIHL fan for one opposition player they’d love to have on their squad, or an EIHL player who they’d love to have as a team-mate, and for all the above reasons, Keefe will be among the first names mentioned, whatever colour jersey they wear. His willingness to go to the dirty areas on ice and do pretty much anything for the team (including dressing for the EIHL playoff final last year despite reportedly carrying a very painful injury that made him barely able to skate) and do all the unglamorous but necessary things that win games make him a leader many teams would happily sell their souls for.
In three EIHL seasons so far he’s scored 75 points and racked up 625 PiMs over his 163 games, but mere numbers simply don’t show just how much of an impact Keefe has had and continues to have on both Belfast and the EIHL. Arguably, the only other players in the EIHL era who have been as important to their teams’ identities throughout their time at the club are Brad Voth in Cardiff, Dan Carlson in Coventry, Martin Cingel in Edinburgh and (possibly) Jeff Legue in Sheffield. That’s some pretty august company to be measured in when it comes to franchise players.
Of the players above, Keefe is the only one still at the club where he’s had most impact-and right now, it’s pretty hard to argue that there’s a player in the EIHL more important to their team’s (and by extension the league’s) identity both on and off the ice. That alone, for all the reasons above, means that the Brampton Bulldog is, by far, the EIHL’s most important player.
And we look forward to seeing him “pull on the work boots” along with Daryl Lloyd and go to war for the Giants once again, while every Giants fan realises just how lucky they are and every player, coach and fan in the EIHL outside Belfast secretly wishes he was pulling on their jersey.
When your presence inspires such love in your own team and envy in the rest of the league, that, for all the reasons above, is the mark of a truly great player.
Adam Keefe. The most important player in the EIHL, bar none.